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Mobile medicine

Bringing health care to at-risk youth

Seth Ammerman

Seth Ammerman, MD, founded the Packard Children's Adolescent Health Van to provide at-risk youth with accessible and confidential health care

In its 15 years of delivering health care to disadvantaged Bay Area youth, the Packard Children's Adolescent Health Van has become a safe haven for more than 3,500 impoverished young people.

The van, which celebrated its 15th anniversary in September, provides high-risk youth with free, confidential help in a welcoming setting.

"When we started the Health Van, our idea was that we would target uninsured youth and provide easily accessible, comprehensive care," said Seth Ammerman, MD, medical director and founder of the program. The 8-by-36-foot rolling clinic uses a one-stop shopping approach in which patients aged 10 to 25 receive primary health care, specialty care, medications, laboratory work, nutrition counseling, mental health care and social work services. The van includes two fully equipped exam rooms and is outfitted with preteens, teens and young adults in mind.

Since patients often lack transportation, the van comes to them, making regular visits to seven Bay Area schools and community agencies, including an East Palo Alto branch of the Boys and Girls Club. The goal is continuity so that patients can build trusting relationships with their caregivers.

"Most important, we have a staff that likes to work with this age group," Ammerman said. "They're caring and helpful regardless of a young person's situation." About 40 percent of the van's patients are homeless, he said.

On an initial visit, patients meet the entire team, including a nurse practitioner, physician assistant, nutritionist and social worker. The staff members address the full gamut of adolescent health concerns-from asthma, acne and body-weight worries to sports injuries, sexual health questions and mental health issues.

Every dollar of the van's $650,000 annual budget, which is funded primarily by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health and the nonprofit Children's Health Fund, averts $10 in expenses such as emergency room visits, said Ammerman. Three-quarters of the van's patients return for follow-up care.

"Unfortunately, the need for our program is greater than ever," Ammerman said, noting that the economic downturn has brought in many kids whose parents have lost jobs and health insurance.

Ammerman is proud of the van's mission. "When kids start taking care of their health, they can really turn their lives around," he said. "Some people write off these kids, especially the more marginalized. We've shown you shouldn't-they can do really well."

To make a tax-deductible donation to support the Health Van, visit the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health website at The van's current schedule can be viewed at

Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and health care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care (formerly Stanford Hospital & Clinics), and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at

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